Gina Khan is a British Muslim woman who lives in Birmingham’s Ward End, an area in which men were recently convicted of a plot to kidnap and kill a British Muslim soldier. In this interview she sets her story of oppression and liberation against the backdrop of the unchecked growth of Islamism — ‘this backward and male-dominated ideology,’ — in her city over the last 20 years.
Question: So, Gina, tell us a little about yourself, your background and your
Gina Khan: I’m a British Asian Woman from a Pakistani ethnic background; a Sunni Muslim and a lone parent. I grew up in Birmingham in the English Midlands — in an area with a preponderance of Muslims.
I used to be a victim of psychological aggression. With hand on heart and head, I can say this was just because I was born a female into a Muslim family in the West. (Pain figures in the lives of many Muslim women because of accepted Muslim social practices. I was no exception to the rule). Today the rhetoric you hear from extreme Islamists or the stories you read in British papers about honor killings or forced marriages doesn’t shock me or many others at grassroots level. It’s an old story, one that has been repeated for hundreds of years. Just that today the voices are amplified after 9/11 and there are more extreme mosques and more extreme Islamists than ever on the streets of areas like mine.
I was once one of the ‘silent majority’ who remained silent. I was told silent and good Muslim women are respected and honoured. I was told Islam protects and gives special status to Muslim women/mothers compared to the Western woman. My life experience proved otherwise. I have always had an issue with aspects of my religion and culture but was taught never to question. Now I question, seek and acknowledge the truth — the truth as I see it, as I lived it, and as I observed it from others around me, all of my life. I am not liked by the Islamists. I’ve had bricks thrown through the window and I’ve had family members beaten up. I’ve been told to move on. But I’m not budging. This is my home and I belong here. The Islamists where I live — in Birmingham’s Ward End — are an awful scourge.
Question: Why are you not like them yourself ?
Gina Khan: I was 10 when I first started to reason and listen to what my inner voice was telling me, compared to the voices that were drowning out my own authentic voice. I remained silent back then though, and I have since paid a very high personal price for that silence, as I could not get on with the confined ways as laid out for me. Looking back — I suppose I was only young — I participated in my own oppression and thought I was being a good Muslim woman. As hard as people tried though, they couldn’t take the Britishness out of me! I fought suppression and oppression until I have become who I’ve become. I think in English, I talk in English. I wasn’t even fluent speaking Urdu and Punjabi until I was 18 years of age. The women in my family were not backwards, my Mum was the head of the family, and she was a strong independent woman who made sure Dad could never engage in polygamy in this country (as he had done before in Pakistan before they migrated to Birmingham). But don’t get me wrong — I’m a Muslim alright. Question: And your parents?
Gina Khan: Mum had herself been a victim of polygamy before meeting my father and had been forced to abandon her studies to get married at 15. My mum was educated at a British school in Pakistan; she wasted no time in integrating and making herself familiar with the rules and regulations of Britain when she arrived. She spent most of her life trying to perfect her English or trying (and usually failing) to pass her driving test! She ran a business and took care of her family.
Question: You loved your family?
Gina Khan: Yes, very much so. I inherited my Mum’s love for Indian/Pakistani classical movies, music, saris and her respect for Bhutto in Pakistan. She shaped my thinking from an early age. The first book she gave me was about The Creation of Pakistan and Jinnah the founder.
I was closer to my Father but was manipulated later by him as a young teenager when Mum sent me to Pakistan for the first time on a holiday with him. The excuse they use is ‘it’s in our culture or in our religion’ but endogamy (against British law) didn’t apply to us.
Question: But you still rose up above all this negative pressure?
Gina Khan: It wasn’t until after divorce and after 9/11 that I decided I wasn’t mad. I wasn’t an apostle or a kafir or Islamophobe. Islamistophobic perhaps! I pulled my children out from the Islamists’ bubble of influence for good. I decided to get to know my enemy — get to see what was behind the Islamist ideologies that had hurt me and were hurting so many others so much. I realised that to understand Jihadists I had to understand the roots of Jihadist history myself — not depend on the books or translations I was being subjected to. I started to read the Quran, study my religion and Islamic history. My reading helped promote my respect for democracy, as well as the values and principles of this great country, Britain, which is my home and my motherland too. As a lone mother I learnt a lot about myself and who I am. The Sharia law was designed with the ‘family’ framework in mind. The lone mother isn’t in the Islamic conscience; Islamists claim ‘there are no lone mothers in Muslim communities.’ Of course there are. The more reason why lone mothers need to protect their children from being indoctrinated or recruited into Jihadism. So far I had been de-humanised as a Muslim woman. I thought about converting to another faith or renouncing the religion I was born into, but no, I realised I was a Muslim. To convert — that would be pointless. Just because I think Osama Bin Laden is wrong doesn’t mean that I should change my religion — the Islamists are wrong too.